Fresh produce and prepared food company Geest has announced a fall in sales for the 52 weeks ended 1 January 2005 to £830.6m (US$1.595bn), compared with £867.5m in the 53 weeks ended 3 January 2004.

Total operating profit rose to £36.4m, compared with £29.6m in 2003.

“Underlying Group sales grew by 5%, whilst reported sales (adjusted for 53 weeks)
declined by 2% to £830.6 million (2003: £851.1 million),” chairman Sir John Banham said. He blamed a change in the accounting treatment of produce sales to an agency basis following the change in the trading agreement with a customer and the loss of sales following a fire at the company’s Tilbrook ready meals plant.

“These results are a good achievement in a difficult year in which there was an unprecedented level of competition between food retailers,” he said. “In response, we accelerated our improvement programme and made savings of £24m, which helped to maintain our margins and improve our cash flow.”

“Geest remains in good shape to continue to manage market pressures in the food retail environment, which is expected to remain challenging, and to fulfil strong consumer demand for fresh prepared foods in the UK and on the continent,” he said”